I heard it again at a conference–a volunteer position, probably a board seat, identified as a resume builder. I’m guessing, based on the context that the speaker meant it looked really good on the listener’s resume–prestigious, visible, and eye-catching to the discerning reader.
We tell people to be on the lookout for those ticket-punching, career-validating, and sought after slots, whether they are volunteer roles, paid positions, appointments or elected offices. As long as other people want them and they are competitively sought, you can call them resume builders all day long.
Unless you don’t do the work, don’t show up for the meetings, don’t read the briefing materials, treat the staff badly, show up in your beachwear, or fail to represent (or even understand) the mission and purpose of the organization or agency.
Then you have a career-killer, not a resume-builder, on your hands.
When someone offers you a unique opportunity that might be resume material, here are the things you should ask yourself:
- Is this in my wheelhouse? Does it fit my personal priorities and aptitudes, whatever the mission, vision, or values? Do I regard it as a chance to make a difference in a matter that I care about? Will I be competent if challenged? If not, know that you will stand out for the wrong reasons and have trouble sustaining your own interest. You may be talked about for all the wrong reasons.
- Do I have enough time to truly dedicate enough of myself to the role? If you are wedging this in among the million other obligations you added to your burden, denying your family, other work, hobbies, and personal wellness, it’s a mistake to take it on.
- If someone turns to Google to learn more about you, are they going to find you. . . a lot? Meaning, have you signed up for multiple boards, committees, initiatives, and volunteer jobs? Politely, are you a habitual joiner, saying yes to every invitation and inviter? It’s one thing to write a check or add your name to the list of supporters, since obviously you care. That is not the same as increasing your exposure to risk. Often enough, things go south in non-profit and politics world in particular. The more exposure you have, the more likely it will happen right in front of you.
- What will I learn and take away from this experience? What actual personal development will I ultimately be able to add to my narrative? What will this bring to my professional life, other than contacts and connections. There is nothing wrong with joining up because you want to meet others who are involved in something; the collaboration and exchange of learning is a powerful motivation to spend your resources. But if you have eyes for only the benefits of knowing the players, or adding them to your contacts, your intentions will be quickly apparent.
- Can I help? This is for the experienced volunteer, with a respectable portfolio: sometimes you are not the right resource. Sometimes your name and participation are not the best alternative, but you are asked anyway (Example: you are a turnaround maven and what is needed is a continuity player. Another: you are a leader and they want a rubber stamper.) Always give other names, and bow out before you make a mistake and have to quit.
Think of your resume as a surrogate for you. If you don’t have a resume, think of your LinkedIn profile, your executive bio, or a similar document that announces you, summarizes your stuff, or details what you are–or want to be–known for. It’s you, not the document, that is changed for better or worse by the experience you gain, and you select the opportunity and devote your energy and capacity to that end.
Be selective. Care. Turn things down.
Be the one who is able to speak knowledgeably, comprehensively, and often passionately about what it meant or means to be part of something so important that you give up your time and devote your energy and skill to participate with like-minded others.